In a time when the culture of NBA philosophies began moving away from highly specialized role players to ball players with more unique skill sets who can fill multiple roles, Mike D’Antoni was on the forefront of an offensive revolution that saw teams — and more specifically — his Phoenix Suns try to win games by speeding up the pace of the game to manufacture high percentage shots in as many possessions as possible.
What wasn’t specific to D’Antoni’s offense, however, was the utilization of basketball players who can fill multiple roles on the offensive end and defend multiple positions on the defensive end. Despite their contrasting styles of play, this changing of the guard is a reason that the Lakers and Suns met in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. They weren’t just the two best teams in the Western Conference that season, but they were the two teams in the Western Conference with the most interchangeable parts. No longer completely tied to the largely arbitrary archetypes of standard positions, both the Lakers and Suns were able to move away from the classical positional roles and move more toward putting players in spots on the floor based on their skill sets.
Lamar Odom spent a lot of time handling the ball, Pau Gasol operated from the pinch post, both Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest spent a tremendous number of minutes on the low post while guys like Derek Fisher played off the ball and positioned themselves as spot up shooters. With all of this considered, it does make sense for D’Antoni to want Jordan Hill to continue to develop a mid-range jump shot. The more diverse Hill becomes on the offensive end, the less predictable the Lakers become as a unit.
One of the biggest problems the Lakers had on the offensive end last season was opposing defenses knowing what spots on the floor Lakers players were going to operate from, which is a huge difference in knowing what spots on the floor players liked operating from. Knowing that Dwight Howard was going to dive to the basket after setting a screen from the right pinch in Horns sets was problematic. Knowing that Metta World Peace was primarily going to be spotted up in one of the corners was problematic. Knowing that Antawn Jamison was only efficient in situations where he was cutting from the weak side was problematic. Knowing that Hill was only going to hurt opposing teams by scoring off of offensive rebounds was problematic.
However, there are varying degrees to which you can convert a front court player into a jump shooter; more importantly, a head coach has to be much more selective in which bigs he’d like to stretch the floor.
Before Jordan Hill’s injury, he was logging some historic numbers on the offensive end of the floor — some numbers you’d have to delve into outside of typical box scores. In 29 games last season, Jordan Hill’s offensive rebound percentage was at an outstanding 20.3. To put that particular number into perspective, had he recorded the minimum minutes to qualify for the league’s best and sustained his ORB%, he would have had recorded the best offensive rebounding season since Jayson Williams in 1998 — with Dennis Rodman’s 20.83 ORB% the year before being the only other instance that a ball player had an offensive rebound percentage over 20.
Hill would have had the third highest single-season ORB% of all time. As wild as that sounds, this season wasn’t an outlying performance. Hill has a career ORB% of 14.2, which would be sixth all time had he already logged the necessary minutes requirements through his first four years in the NBA. In seven regular season games with the Lakers last season, Hill recorded an ORB% of 20. And in the 12 playoff games that he saw minutes in last season, his ORB% was a smidgen under 19.
Mike D’Antoni has his heart in the right place by wanting to make Hill a stretch four, but his thinking is just a tad bit off on this one. Having an offensively limited guy like Hill suddenly developing a jump shot would do wonders for the Lakers offense next season, but it’s but unrealistic and unwise.
D’Antoni’s staff worked with Hill on developing his mid-range game last season, and there was improvement in some areas, but he also regressed in others. Check out his shot location charts from the previous three years beginning with this past season.
What you should notice is that Hill made an improvement in shooting from the 10-14 foot range (which wouldn’t be sustainable considering the low number of shots he took from that area last season) and from the 20-24 foot range. However, Hill made a huge decline shooting from the 15-19 range, where a lot of the shots the floor-spreading big is designed to take in D’Antoni’s system. In that role last season, Gasol took 23 percent of his shots from the 15-19 foot range (more than any spot after shots right at the rim), and only knocked down just over 40 percent of his shots from that area — and that wasn’t good enough for D’Antoni, who would have Gasol come off the bench during a stretch of games in January.
With Hill’s best season shooting from that range at 35.5 percent, and that number dipping to 27 percent in this past season, it just wouldn’t make sense to make Hill a full time stretch-four. If you couple that with how well Hill rebounds on the offensive end of the floor, designing your offense to pull him away from the rim just doesn’t make sense.
This isn’t to say, however, that Hill shouldn’t continue to work on his jump shot. There will be situations next season where Hill is going to have to be a pick-and-pop forward either out of Horns or natural P&R sets, and his ability to knock down jump shots with some kind of regularity will help him stay on the floor. But Hill should spend the majority of his time around the rim as the garbage man, cleaning up the boards.
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